PubMed, along with other projects of the National Library of Medicine (NLM),  the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), have been  the best examples for taxpayers’ money well spent on worthy projects. The databases and information services created  by the NLM, NIH and NCBI are constantly improved and enhanced with new features without much fanfare – just the opposite of PubScience which was carelessly and incompetently built and appallingly over-hyped, and wasted a couple million of your tax dollars and mine.

Many may not have heard about the improvements of the behind-the-scene enhancements of user queries with controlled vocabulary terms from MeSH and more than a hundred other medical and health related thesauri, or about the federated searching of more than 20 open access databases of the three organizations through the Global NCBI Search Engine.

But what made PubMed to earn cheers is the constant expansion of sources to which PubMed records provide links. As of the end of December there were 4,192 journals to which PubMed provided links. Only a fraction of these are open access journals, but your library may have a subscription and as an authenticated user you may access the article instantly.

I wish that the open access journals were clearly labeled on the otherwise well-organized LinkOut list of titles which offers instant searching by the selected year of the journal in PubMed. While some users would know that if a title is hosted by PubMed Central or BioMed Central, it is free, far fewer users would know that SciELO also offers free access to the Bulletin of the WHO from 2001 along with six other journals for free, and it is listed as the last host in the list.

On the search result list the open access full-text articles are well represented with icons showing green edge or green strip with orange edge, and once you click on them the message is unmistakable.

The only option that could make users more aware of the power of those links is a check-box to limit the search to open access journals. True, such an option may reduce the results too much, although out of the 383 original results on the topic of “impact factor” there were 50 open access journal articles for instant gratification for anyone (if they read both English and Spanish).  

True, such an option would exlude articles from journals which are not open access universally, but  may be for the qualified users associated with a library which have subscription to the digital version of the journal. The same is true for the existing limit option for filtering out those articles which have no abstract in PubMed. As that filter can be turned on and off, so could be the free full-text availability filter.

Another argument for such option is that it could increase the chance that users would become more aware of the variety of high quality  journals which are open access (such as the entire run of the Journal of Medical Internet Research or the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association from 1994 to 2000), or are partially open access for several years, such as BMJ, CMAJ, MJA, Haematologica or the British Journal of Anaesthesia

Commercial versions of MEDLINE do not have these links to the open access full-text archives, but many of them happily link you to document delivery services, which in turn provide you even more happily for a steep fee  the source document which you could get legitimately for free and instantly

As an additional bonus, PubMed offers an option to find articles in PubMed Central and BioMed Central which cite those articles that you have selected from the first search results. For my query results about impact factor, there were 24 such articles. In addition, you may limit results to items which are cited in books. 

PubMed shows constant developments and maybe one day, it will have the budget to start including cited references in the MEDLINE records. That would would be the ultimate enhancement for this already outstanding database.

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